Coincidence? I don’t think so.



Some months ago an American blogger sent me an email. She had been reading my blog and said that she and her French husband were about to move from Paris to Osaka. For a number of weeks we sent emails back and forth discussing Osaka and expat life, and got on well. They moved to Osaka. She kept on reading my blog and I hers.

One day I was reading her blog. In the post that I was reading she described the strange way that addresses are represented in Japan (in blocks instead of streets) and gave an example address. To my confusion the example address that she gave was my address. I emailed her and asked why she had given that particular address as an example. She explained that that was her address. We realized that for weeks we had been sending emails back and forth 10 floors between us – she on the 14th and I on the 24th floor of our building.

A couple of weeks later, my son’s school friend’s mother told us that they were moving from North Osaka to the city centre. It turned out they were also moving to my building, to the 13th floor!

I could but think: what is it with this building!? Ok, it’s big – 28 stories, and perhaps approx. 150 apartments, but still, Osaka is big – roughly the size of Los Angeles or Berlin, so there are hundreds or even thousands of apartment blocks in Osaka. What are the chances of two people that I know moving in to the same apartment building as us?

I would have understood it if these people knew where we lived and that had some effect on their decision on apartment buildings (not that we consider ourselves influential people) but they didn’t. So, this all seemed like an amazing coincidence.

This ‘coincidence’ baffled me for a while, until it dawned on me. The American-French couple are, well, American and French. They are not Japanese. My son’s school friend is of South-Korean origin (him and his mother speak fluent Japanese – but importantly, they are not Japanese). My husband and I are also not Japanese – we are British and Finnish, respectively. Our building is one of those few buildings in Osaka city centre where the landlord is willing to consider non-Japanese tenants. No longer do I think that it is a statistical miracle that we all live in the same building – if, in a given area, there is only a handful of buildings (or perhaps just one building) in which foreigners can secure a rental apartment, the likelihood that foreigners such as us find our way into this building is pretty high.

When my husband and I were trying to find a rental apartment in Osaka, just before we moved to Japan, we realized that in Japan it is surprisingly difficult to find a landlord who would consider foreign tenants. This is common knowledge and the letting agents state this openly. And our letting agent wasn’t fibbing us, given that (a) we had only a small selection of properties to choose from and (b) at the end – to secure the apartment – the letting agreement had to be made between my (Japanese) employer and the landlord rather than us and the landlord.

In some respects, Japan is a bit like Finland. Both countries have a relatively small number of immigrants/expats, for example in comparison to England. Thus, I feel, landlords’ (and many other people’s) perception of foreigners is still somewhat negative. Or perhaps, negative is too strong a word… maybe saying that landlords in Finland and Japan prefer natives to those countries, respectively would be a more accurate statement. But in Finland, Japanese-style open discrimination is illegal (but of course this doesn’t mean that landlords in Finland are necessarily keen on having foreign tenants – they just don’t state it openly).

In any case, after having lived for many years in a multi-cultural country (i.e. England), where foreigners generally feel relatively welcome, our experience of and insight into the Japanese rental property discrimination was surprising and disappointing.

It would be interesting to know how foreigners are received in other countries…

17 thoughts on “Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  1. haha i feel you, when i finished my schooling in Central Finland i moved to Helsinki and my depression on hunting for apartments started. No single private company wanted to give me, the city apartments were full and also i did not want to live is petty neighborhood, they would call for me to go see the apartments but once they saw me, that was it. i got my first apartment through my Finnish workmate who applied one for me, then when i got a Finnish partner, i didn’t believe how fast we got a new a week!

    • I’m sorry to hear that you had problems finding a landlord in Finland.
      Even though Finnish landlords rarely state that they will only consider Finns as tenants, I’m pretty sure this type of discrimination happens regardless. 😦

  2. I live in a place where such discrimination (refusal to even consider non-US-citizen applicants for housing rentals) is illegal and, as far as I know (having worked for the agency that enforces that law), unusual. Why, do you think, has a landlord preference for tenants who are Japanese nationals become so strong that few of the landlords of buildings in Osaka city center are willing to even consider non-Japanese tenants? I have personally experienced how closed Japanese society can be, but this surprises even me. There must be a real dearth of, and so plenty of Japanese applicants for, available rental housing in Osaka city center.

    • Hi Leslie,

      It seems to be that in general it is only corporate landlords that will consider non-Japanese tenants – most private landlords do not. I guess the Japanese as a nation are still quite insular and clicky.

      Because nearly all new jobs, schools, and university courses in Japan start on the 1st April, half the nation is on the move in March. So, it might be that in March it is particularly difficult for a foreigner to find an apartment – although, of course, because half the nation is on the move, there are a lot of apartments on offer. But it would be interesting to know whether private landlords are more desperate and thus more willing to consider non-Japanese tenants outside the peak rental periods.

      Given that you’ve worked for an agency that monitors discrimination, just out of interest, how did you monitor that landlords were not selecting their tenants by nationality?

  3. Oh now, I hope I will find a place to live in the future when I move to Japan (my dream).

    Here in Spain it is relatively easy to be a foreigner, but my Finnish friends have had some really bad experiences here ; e.g. one landlord refused to rent his place for my friends when he heard they are foreigners.

    • Foreigners can find apartments in Japan, so don’t worry – your choice of apartments will just be considerably reduced in comparison the Japanese tenants. The easiest way seems to be to rent the apartment through your employer. Alternatively, you can always hook up with a Japanese person. That should make things much easier 😀

    • Are you coming to Japan as a ALT/JET teacher? How long for? Osaka is great! I’m sure you’ll like it here.

      If your apartment is somewhere near Shinsaibashi, give me a shout – We might be in the same building 😀

      • If all go’s according to plan I’ll be working in the English Village that’s opening as part of an Expo project in November. I will certainly look you up if I’m nearby!

      • I checked the English Village and Expo info on-line, and it looks interesting: ‘Learn English by using it’ in the English village. There will also be cinemas, an aquarium, some Pokemon stuff, shops etc. there. So it should be a fun place to work at 🙂 The Expo will be held in a big park in Suita (North-East of Osaka) and so, the easiest place for you to live in might be Suita/Ibaraki/Takatsuki/Aikawa/Awaji or some other place North-East of Osaka.

        Hopefully everything goes according to your plans. 🙂

        PS. How long are you planning to stay for?

  4. My husband who is South African called to make an appointment to view a house here in Austria and the estate agent told him that the owner only rents to locals. After sending a photo of his white face we were welcome to view it. Was pretty

    • By the sound of it, in Austria, some landlords are not only xenophobic but maybe also racist…? This, to me is surprising. I thought Austria was very tolerant, as last spring, during the Eurovision song contest in Vienna, I read in the news that they changed pedestrian traffic lights from your typical male characters to couples representing different sexual orientations. So, somehow I thought that the Austrian mentality was very much ‘live and let live’, but maybe not… :/

  5. Hello BrightonEagle, Many thanks for the interesting blog. I am relocating to Osaka in July to work at the UNEP International Environmental Technology Center. I’ll be in town next week looking at some housing all of the ones that the agent has so far suggested are highrise towers.
    1. Matsuya Tower (this is one I found on the internet and asked to look at)
    2. One in Shinsaibashi
    3. One in Kitahama
    4. Cadenza the Tower (where the current director who I am replacing stays)
    Any advice? My blog is not kept up well – maybe I’ll add an entry now that I have been inspired by yours. THanks,

    • Hi Keith,

      Thanks for your nice comment about my blog. And welcome to Osaka in the summer – Osaka a really nice city to live in, although temperature- and humidity-wise the summer is hell!

      I believe your work place is located near Tsurumiryokuchi park. So,

      1. Matsuya Tower would be very convenient. It’s in the city centre, about 10 min walk from Shinsaibashi, but the area (Matsuyamatchi) has a very residential feel to it. Matsuya Tower is about 1min walk from a tube station that will directly take you to Tsurumiryokutchi station.

      2. Shinsaibashi – also central and close to the tube line to your office. Depending on where in Shinsaibashi the property is, this location might be equally residential as Matsuya Tower, but Shinsaibashi can be quite busy as well. If you are shown a tall yellow building in the heart of Shinsaibashi, a brand new dark brown building in the crossroads of Sakaisuji and Nagahoridori, or a lighter brown building in Shimanouchi called Castalia Tower – they are all great.

      3. I like Kitahama as an area, but Kitahama might not be as convenient re your commute to work.

      4. Cadenza the Tower is located quite close to your work place, but it is about 20 min tube journey from the city centre and it might make you feel a little isolated, at least when you are new to Osaka. When we moved to Osaka, we were contemplating as to whether to move close (a) to my work or (b) to the city centre. We decided in favour of the latter because we didn’t know Osaka or anyone there, we didn’t speak any Japanese, we did not want to buy a car (public transport links in Osaka are fantastic!), and we just wanted to be where the shops, sights, restaurants, and general action was. I think we made the right decision ☺

      I had a quick look at your blog. There are some really interesting blog posts there – like your post about clay eating, or ‘real’ avocados and bananas! 🙂

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